New Emissary

Philippine Travel Talk

The country wants to increase ‘quality’ tourism. Does this mean no more backpackers?

Earlier this week, the Associated Foreign Press reported that the Philippines’ tourism industry is looking to double its revenues in the next half decade or so, all while ‘avoiding the mass-market route taken by some of its South-east Asian neighbours.’

And, it seems the country's new tourism minister, Alberto Lim, has plenty of ideas on how to move forward with the ambitious plan.

Lim proposes increases in direct flight routes to the country, unleashing more of the potential behind an English-speaking population, improving road connections, putting more artefacts on display in museums and even educating sometimes rude and dishonest local cab drivers, as ways to start boosting tourism to the Philippines.

Furthermore, he also emphasizes a quality-over-quantity approach, by catering to a group of superior tourists who are truly interested in the ‘culture, history and nature,’ of his country and will be less of a liability in terms of environmental conservation. And although Lim says backpackers are ‘still welcome,’ he seemed to insinuate by pointing out that as they are thrifty and leave waste behind, that they might not be the most desirable type of visitor.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

I wondered what locals think about their government making such claims about the country’s travel industry, and whether they’re inclined to simply dismiss such talk as the standard lines trotted out by any newly-appointed government official.

So I got in touch with Filipino blogger Julius Rocas, who had a lot to say on the issue. He first shed some interesting light on the ‘backpacker’ comment made by Lim, suggesting that perhaps the new minister has limited knowledge of the issue, and even a personal agenda:

‘It can’t be helped that the new tourism secretary looks down or even frowns upon backpacking as a mode of tourism. It’s because Lim is a former high-end resort developer who has catered to more affluent tourists (which are outnumbered by backpackers) so they view the backpacking that small and medium-scale businesses in tourism cater to as competition.’

Rocas also brought up the important issue of environmental responsibility, and that it shouldn’t all be placed on the tourists themselves:

‘The issue of over-development and "backpackers leaving waste" in tourist destinations is a minor issue and is the product of the poor implementation of environmental laws from the national down to the local government units who come face-to-face with tourists, not simply the backpacking tourists themselves.

‘If local residents and officials don't follow their own laws about development restrictions and environmental protection, how can you expect foreign tourists to do the same?’

As for Lim’s plan overall, Rocas asserted that in his opinion, the whole initiative might just be a ‘narrow-sighted reaction’ to serve the interests of his own class and that such large-scale policies tend to benefit only the status quo and large-scale businesses who cater to the more affluent tourists. Rocas worries that people like backpackers, and along with them the small and medium-scale businesses and the middle-class Filipinos who engage in this segment of the tourism industry, will lose out.

He therefore recommended visiting the over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, which house ‘some of the most beautiful diving spots in the world,’ by enlisting the help of the locals who inhabit them (since Filipinos are ‘known throughout the world for their generous hospitality.’)

Rocas added that this sort of travelling style ‘will create jobs for the common man and bring the local economies to life.’